Judicial Hellholes Report Released

The American Tort Reform Foundation issued its annual Judicial Hellholes® report this week, naming courts in New York City, California, West Virginia, Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Louisiana among the nation’s most unfair in their handling of civil litigation.

The hard-hitting 2014-15 report shines its brightest spotlight on seven courts or areas of the country that have developed reputations as "Judicial Hellholes". Several have become or continue to be hotbeds of asbestos litigation, even though the U.S. has long passed its epidemiological peak for mesothelioma, and even as civil courts and lawmakers in much of the rest of the country grow increasingly skeptical of a lawsuit industry that relentlessly generates new claims.   But asbestos litigation comprises only a fraction of this year’s report.  Courts willing to entertain preposterous consumer class actions also are highlighted. Also in focus, the dangerous trend of state attorneys general contracting with private-sector personal injury lawyers to pursue their self-interest instead of the public interest.  

New York makes the top of the list for its pro-plaintiff asbestos rules, including allowing plaintiffs’ lawyers to try multiple, dissimilar cases together. California remains on the list for the troubling use of “public nuisance” law and private sector contingency-fee lawyers by district attorneys seeking to "rifle the pockets" of corporate defendants, says the report. The report also examines personal injury lawyers’ exploitation of Prop 65 and California's consumer protection laws.

West Virginia, says the report, rarely misses an opportunity to abandon traditional tort law and adopt expansive theories of liability, and this year required certification of a class action of individuals united by the fact they suffered no injury, and permitted recovery of inflated damages for fictional medical costs.  Florida continues its reputation for an unfair civil justice system, according to the report, including through judicial nullification of valid legislative tort reform, such as a law intended to ensure access to healthcare in the state by limiting subjective damages for pain and suffering in medical liability lawsuits.  Missouri makes the report for outlier, liability-expanding rulings and for invalidating reasonable civil justice reforms.  

Of special interest to your humble blogger, hometown Philadelphia is on the "watch list" after seeing some decline in mass tort lawsuit filings but in light of impending retirement of key judges in the mass tort program.

This year’s report again emphasizes the good news from some jurisdictions across the country. Points of Light are examples of, among other things, fair and balanced judicial decisions that adhere to the rule of law and positive legislative reforms. For example, the Iowa Supreme Court, in contrast to the Alabama Supreme Court, rejected “innovator liability,” which allows plaintiffs to sue companies that developed a brand-name drug when they took the generic version.
 

ATRA Releases "Judicial Hellholes" Report

The American Tort Reform Association has released its latest edition of the Judicial Hellholes report.  Of particular interest, ATRA ultimately chose to move formerly #1-ranked Philadelphia (home base of your humble blogger) off the list of Judicial Hellholes and into the top slot on the marginally less critical "Watch List."   ATRA wanted to acknowledge various efforts taken by the local court recently to step back from prior administrative steps that seemed designed to attract out of state mass tort plaintiffs.

ATRA now ranks California -- the entire state – as the new #1 Judicial Hellhole (it was #2 last year).  "Lingering troubles with an unbalanced playing field" earn West Virginia the second-place ranking; Madison County, Illinois earned the #3 ranking with filings of new asbestos lawsuits in the small, rural jurisdiction poised to set another record. And New York City’s mounting tort liability, and Baltimore because of its asbestos litigation, led to fourth- and fifth-place rankings for those jurisdictions.


This latest report also debuts a new feature scrutinizing some of the worst (and best) federal appellate decisions of the year, and they also added a special focus on the explosion of consumer protection litigation, particularly that which targets “Big Food.”

 

 

American Tort Reform Association Releases Annual Analysis of Toughest Jurisidictions

The year end brings all manner of lists. The latest ranking of America's "most unfair jurisdictions" in which to be sued has been revealed in the American Tort Reform Foundation's Judicial Hellholes® 2009/2010 report.  South Florida is this year's top “judicial hellhole,” reclaiming a title that it lost in 2008 to West Virginia.  According to the American Tort Reform Association, "Judicial Hellholes" are places where judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an inequitable manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits. In this eighth annual report, ATRF shines the spotlight on six areas of the country that it says have developed unenviable reputations. 

#1 SOUTH FLORIDA
South Florida is listed for its medical malpractice claims, tobacco lawsuits, and large verdicts, according to ATRF. Florida is listed as one of the few states that allow those who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs to sue the automobile manufacturer for failing to prevent their injuries by designing a safer car, while hiding from the jury the driver's responsibility for the crash.

#2 WEST VIRGINIA
West Virginia is listed due to the state's unique lack of appellate review; elected judges' hostility to out-of-state corporations; unusual trial practices; and the novel, liability-expanding decisions of its high court, according to the Association. 

# 3 COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS
Cook County is Illinois' center of litigation, hosting 65 percent of the state's lawsuits.  

# 4 ATLANTIC COUNTY, NEW JERSEY

Atlantic County has been identified as a Judicial Hellhole since 2007 in large part because it serves as a center for mass tort actions, often directed at one of the state's own economic generators, pharmaceutical manufacturers, says the Association. Ninety-three percent of plaintiffs in New Jersey's pharmaceutical mass torts come from outside the state.

# 5 NEW MEXICO APPELLATE COURTS
# 6 NEW YORK CITY
 

WATCH LIST
Beyond the Judicial Hellholes, this report calls attention to several additional jurisdictions that ATRF says also bear watching, including California, Alabama, and Jefferson County, Mississippi.

The Report also highlights good news for defendants, including the recommendation of an independent commission established by West Virginia Gov. Manchin that the state establish an intermediate appellate court and provide litigants with a right to an appeal; the Maryland Court of Appeals decision limiting non-economic damages in all civil claims, preventing plaintiffs' lawyers from circumventing the law by characterizing personal-injury lawsuits as consumer protection actions;  Arizona's enactment of medical liability reform;  Oklahoma's passage of a comprehensive tort reform package; and the Texas legislature's resistance to trial lawyer efforts to roll back the substantial progress made in the state in recent years. 
 

ATRA Report Details Current Tort Reform Battles

In recent years, tort reform efforts have achieved some measure of success, particularly in limiting compensatory and punitive damages, in restricting joint and several liability, regulating class actions, and in reforming venue rules which had concentrated mass tort cases in certain "judicial hellholes" or "magic" jurisdictions.

Where are today's tort reform battlegrounds?  The American Tort Reform Association has issued a report detailing the plaintiff bar's attempts to roll back tort reform successes, and to expand civil liability.  The report is entitled, "Defrocking Tort Deform: Stopping Personal Injury Lawyers From Repealing Existing Tort Reforms And Expanding Rights To Sue In State Legislatures."

The report notes key current issues including:

  • Explicitly Authorizing New Types Of Lawsuits
  • Setting The Stage For Implied Causes Of Action
  • Deputizing/Hiring Private Lawyers To Sue On Behalf Of The State
  • Inflating Limitations On Damage Awards
  • Broadening The Scope Of Consumer Laws
  • Extending Statutes of Limitations/Repose

The report warns that, "Plaintiffs’ lawyers are not only threatening to undo recent progress towards a more stable and predictable civil justice system, but also to expand liability in a drastic
and unprecedented manner. The personal injury bar and its allies are well organized, well funded, and have teamed up with their members and supporters in state legislatures. Rather than play defense, as they have over the past two decades by seeking to overturn rational tort reform measures in the courts, they are now on the offensive with a massive legislative and public relations campaign."